Editor’s Note: SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
The 2022 midterms are around the corner, and there may not be a more consequential election than this one. Unsurprisingly, interest among US voters is unusually high.
According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly half of US adults say they’ve given “quite a lot” of thought to the 2022 elections, compared with an average of just 37% in the summer months preceding all of the elections between 1998 and 2014.
That measure – what Gallup calls “intensity” – is matched by voter enthusiasm. And half of US voters are more enthusiastic about voting than usual.
If you aren’t among these voters, perhaps you should start taking a closer look at the races that could directly impact you and your life. There are simply too many urgent issues confronting the country to tune out politics now.
From inflation to a possible recession, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and rolling back of abortion access in many states, mass shootings and gun reform, immigration challenges at our borders, a war between Russia and Ukraine, and the continued fallout from Covid, American voters have a plethora of issues they must consider during this critical election cycle.
While media outlets have many helpful resources at our fingertips, from polls to internal and external research, we can only know so much about how you will vote before you do. We could predict that Roe will drive turnout this year, but on the other hand this shaky economy means Democrats could be in real trouble. So, we’re going straight to the source.
CNN Opinion is launching a new series – America’s future starts now – and we’re asking you, American voters, to weigh in.
As much as we tend to fixate on presidential elections, congressional races are where we decide who solves many of these problems – and how. The upcoming November elections could literally determine the fate of tax policy, gun control, abortion law and more for at least the next few years.
Will Democrats in states where overturning Roe v. Wade has effectively banned abortion have enough numbers to codify abortion access?
Will Republicans in states like Florida get to pass more anti-speech laws impacting public schools?
Will your state repeal or advance more gun safety legislation?
But perhaps even more important than all of these individual policy issues is the larger issue of democracy itself. According to a new NBC News poll, threats to democracy rank high among many voters’ priorities in November. An insurrection at the US Capitol in 2021, a former President who still insists the 2020 election was stolen, a large swath of voters who believe Joe Biden to be an illegitimate president and dozens of political candidates running on the lie that elections are rigged all mean that the stakes for these midterms could not be higher.
So, what exactly will drive people to the polls?
Turnout tends to be more of an art than science – predicting drivers is hardly reliable.
But we do have a few indications as to what’s on voters’ minds in 2022.
According to Gallup, the economy is unsurprisingly the top priority in a year in which inflation, high food prices and the threat of a recession are all looming large. After that, gun policy ranks second, followed by abortion, immigration, tax policy, Russia’s war in Ukraine and finally climate issues.
But that’s a little tidier than the reality of election turnout. It’s impossible to quantify and underestimate the emotional – and sometimes irrational – motivations at the ballot box.
For example, how many voters are putting one single issue ahead of all the others? Say, abortion or immigration?
How many on the right are motivated more by culture war impulses – combatting “wokeness” or “owning the libs” – than they are by policy?
How many on the left are motivated more by keeping former President Donald Trump’s handpicked Republicans out of Congress?
Who will go to the polls based on the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen? And who will vote based on other loony conspiracy theories pushed by QAnon and other fringe groups? I’m guessing it’s not an insignificant number.
It’s hard to make much sense of what will turn voters out this year. Consider one primary, where the once- favorite Republican daughter of Wyoming, Liz Cheney, faced the Trump-backed, election denier Harriet Hageman.
Cheney, who voted reliably with Trump 93% of her congressional career and is arguably one of the most conservative members of Congress, was ousted by her own party – not for her policies, but for her willingness to take on Trump.
Her outspokenness on the damages he wrought on January 6, 2021, her vote to impeach Trump weeks later and her position on the January 6 congressional committee earned her a reviled status in many Republican circles. In fact, in 2021, the Wyoming Republican party voted to censure the lone US representative for her impeachment vote, and later to no longer recognize Cheney as a Republican.
In February of last year, House Republicans voted to oust her as GOP conference chairwoman – and in a fleeting victory for Cheney, 61 Republicans voted her out while 145 voted for her to stay. But come May, a voice vote took less than 20 minutes to push her out for good.
Finally, facing a challenge from Trump-picked Hageman, Cheney lost her primary race in a state that overwhelmingly voted her into Congress in 2016 by nearly the same margin that voted her out this year.
Putting another odd twist on the Wyoming Republican primary, by some estimates thousands of Wyoming Democrats switched their party registration to vote for Cheney – again, not for her policies presumably, but because of her stated desire to keep Trump from winning another election.
While Wyoming is admittedly a unique case study, it’s also something of a microcosm of the way some voters may be approaching the 2022 midterms, led less by policy than by their feelings about Trump.
In Democratic primaries, progressives are losing to moderate candidates in many cases, perhaps reaffirming Biden’s tack to the center. If they’re motivated by the same issues most voters are, they’re presumably not willing to give up on Biden’s approach to inflation, and may be endorsing his wins on gun legislation, infrastructure spending, taxes and climate.
But what, exactly, drives turnout in midterm elections – where turnout is usually considerably lower than general election years – is always hard to quantify, especially this year.
In states where abortion has been effectively banned by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, that issue may loom large.
In states like Texas and New York, where horrific mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo traumatized families and communities, the future of gun policy could prove a single issue for many voters.
But lacking the clear indicators of some other election cycles, it’s imperative that we do good journalism and simply ask the question: What matters to you – and why?